alien righteousness

The Scholastic Method

When, as tradition has it, Martin Luther (14830-1546) nailed his theses on indulgences to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg in 1517, the hammer blows appeared to usher in a new era for the church. However, a close look at the theses will make it clear that they do not condemn indulgences as such, but only a misuse of them. When it comes to content, Luther’s first act of reform was therefore more medieval than has commonly been assumed. But the form of this important act in history of the church also must be seen against a medieval background. Nailing theses to a door was not an unusual thing to do, since theological disputations were regularly held on theses that previously had been made known. When Luther nailed those famous theses to the door, his intention was to enter into a theological disputation. The disputation genre had developed in the medieval schools and formed an important part of the scholastic method. (P. L.Rouwendal, 56)

…Aside from the disputations in which the magister determined the subject, there also were disputation on free topics (disputationes de quodlibet), in which members of the audience could ask questions about all kinds of matters. The organization of such disputations twice per year—before Christmas and Easter—also came to be part of the magister’s regular task. However, because they did not know which questions would be asked and therefore could not prepare in advance, a number of magistri left the city before such disputations took place.

These elements of scholastic method were not typically medieval, for they were practiced later not only in the Roman Catholic but also in the Protestant tradition. At the outset of this chapter we already remarked that Luther’s well-known commentary on Galatians was the fruit of his lectio on this letter and that the theses he nailed to the door of the chapel in Wittenberg were intended as theses for disputation. Calvin also followed the quaestio method in his Institutes. Further, that the students (scholastici) were to participate in theological disputations once per month. Reformed universities maintained the practice of holding regular disputations. (P. L.Rouwendal, 62)

Willem J. vanAsselt – Theo Pleizier – P. L.Rouwendal – Maarten Wisse – Reformation Heritage Books – 2011

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